Top Ten Books of 2011
With the New Year approaching, all I can think about is what should I read come 2012. If you’re anything like me and these are the thoughts that keep you awake at night, let me help you out with a few suggestions. Here are the top ten books that I’ve read this past year.
1) Marching Powder: Rusty Young and Thomas McFadden
Marching Powder is the incredible story of Thomas McFadden and his life inside San Pedro Prison in La Paz, Bolivia – as told by Rusty Young. San Pedro is quite possibly the only prison in which inmates are required to pay rent, buy clothing, run stores and restaurants and own microwaves and cell phones. Capitalism at its best. Young and McFadden do a phenomenal job in exposing the inner workings of a prison that is by far like none other.
2) The Psychopath Test: Jon Ronson
After meeting a patient inside an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he is completely sane, Jon Ronson is introduced into the world of psychopathy. Ronson’s interest is so peaked that he spends the next year and half delving into the science of psychopaths. The result is a comprehensive study of the psychopath phenomenon: starting with its first discovery, the variously insane treatments and the current views on these folks. It’s truly a fascinating (and slightly unnerving) read. Psychopaths rarely appear insane; rather, they come across as charming and attractive. The Psychopath Test will have you thinking twice about everyone in your life; I know I did.
3) A Novel Bookstore: Laurence Cosse
Laurence Cosse’s novel is guaranteed to appeal to book snobs like myself. The premise is the creation of a specialty bookstore that stocks only good novels and completely ignores the popular fiction of the day. “The Good Novel” is an immediate success. The titles stocked are chosen a secret committee of accomplished authors. The committee is so shrouded in secrecy that the members are not even aware of who else is on the committee. Suddenly three members of the committee become victims of violent attacks. An investigation is immediately discovers that someone has it out for the store and for the committee members. Suddenly suspects appear everywhere and the ending is guaranteed to shock you. This is probably the best book I’ve read in years and I strongly urge you to go purchase it for yourself.
4) The Sermon on The Mount: Emmett Fox
I’m not usually a big fan of religious texts. I don’t adhere to the “believe in this and your life will be miraculously changed” mHowever, when a good friend (whose sanity I can vouch for) recommended this to me I capitulated and agreed to read it with an open mind. Emmett Fox’s text is a little preachy at times, but for the most part he simply offers up a new way to look at the text I was bombarded with as a child. His modern approach appealed to my practical sensibilities, while the beauty of the words was not lost on me. Despite my contempt prior to investigation, I would highly recommend The Sermon On The Mount – even if this is not usually your cup of tea.
5) The Drowned and The Saved: Primo Levy
Primo Levy takes a subject that has been dealt with extensively and explores it in an entirely new light. Levy’s exploration of the Holocaust focuses more on the belief systems held by both the survivors and the perpetrators. He explores what he calls “the gray zones”: those captured that then turned around and became accomplices. He looks at the guilt that haunts these people and the implications it still has on society. The text is a bit challenging at times, but worth the effort in the end.
6) Look Me In The Eye: John Elder Robinson
The kid brother of famed author Augusten Burroughs offers up one of the most entertaining memoirs of Asperger’s Syndrome I’ve read (and I’ve read up quite a bit on the topic). His tales are both poignant and wildly entertaining. He will have you tempted to cry in one chapter and then laughing out loud in the next. There is a lack of self pity that is admirable and a self reliance that is both an asset and defect. Underlying all of this is an excellent explanation of the nuances of Aspergers and useful tips for those with afflicted loved ones. Informative and fun; I feel it should be required reading.
7) Pretty: Jillian Lauren
Pretty is the story of the emotionally ravaged Bebe Baker and her desperate struggle to piece together a manageable life that actually works after falling prey to the usual suspects of drug and alcohol abuse. The problem is that she simply can’t get past the tragic and violent death of her ex-boyfriend. Living at a halfway house (and constantly in danger of being thrown out) and enrolled in beauty school; Bebe keeps making a series of choices that make her seem hell bent on self-destruction. The fact that Jillian Lauren can evoke sympathy for this character speaks to her talent and the ending is a shocker to say the least. Pretty is a quick and enjoyable read and I would definitely add it to your list.
8) Orangutan – A Memoir: Colin Broderick
Broderick’s memoir of his experience as a drug addicted Irish immigrant is stirring and heart breaking. His description of life as in the city as a first generation immigrant is spot on and profoundly stirring. His writing not only displays serious literary talent, but an admirable capability for introspection. The result is one of the most honest memoirs of drug addiction I’ve come across. Orangutan is a must read for sure.
9) Sophie’s World: Jostein Gaarder
Sophie’s World is simultaneously a comprehensive history of the field of Philosophy and a page-turning mystery that leaves the reader educated and captivated. The main character, Sophie, is involuntarily enrolled in a correspondence course on the history of Philosophy with a secret professor when a strange and anonymous letter appears in her mailbox asking “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” What follows is nothing short of bizarre with twists and turns around every bend. Sophie’s World is a fabulous ride from beginning to end.
10) You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know: Heather Sellers
After spending almost twenty years believing she was crazy, being shunned by people for her alleged aloofness, and avoiding social situations out of fear of running into long time friends and not being able to recognize them, Heather Sellers finally stumbles upon the incredibly rare diagnosis that explains it all. Prosopagnosia: Face blindness. Despite her perfect vision, Sellers can not differentiate one face from another without external clues such as gait, hair, glasses etc; she is literally face blind
“You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know” is a page turner and brain scrambler. It will provoke thoughts that will stay with you for days and make you question how you see things. I highly recommend Heather Sellers’ memoir to all – especially those interested in little known illnesses such as hers.